There's an interesting new bill working its way through the House: The Scientific Communications Act of 2007. (A tip of the hat to the fine folks over at ArsTechnica for cluing me in to its existence).
The bill allocates $50 million over 5 years to the NSF to improve the communication skills of S&E graduate students. The rationale offered in the bill is pretty straightforward:
Grad students often don't get training in communication skills, and these skills would help scientists talk to:
- the public (i.e. increase public support for science)
- policy makers (i.e. help scientific findings be incorporated into public policy), and
- business leaders (i.e. help businesses use science to create new / better products)
All very sensible stuff, it seems to me. I am left wondering a few things:
First and foremost, how did this bill come to be? The lousy quality of graduate training in communication skills doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that most members of Congress spend their time worrying about. I wonder if this is the work of a AAAS fellow? Is there a good conduit for similar ideas to make their way up to the Hill?
Is this level of micromanagement unusual? Or does Congress go in and make NSF do little projects like this all the time? If the former, then I have rather mixed feelings about the bill. Despite the fact that I think communication skills should be taught, I'd be concerned that a different Congress might impose other, less desirable missions on the NSF, say, a set of grants to shore up the foundations for Creation Science.
Is this likely to go anywhere? Or is this just some kind of gesture?
Finally, why doesn't the NSF do this already? This seems like a no-brainer, and it's entirely in the self-interest both of the NSF as an institution and of scientists, since better public support of science presumably means more funding.
I have a couple of contacts on the Hill (not very good ones, unfortunately) will see if I can track down some answers. If you have any pointers to good sources, please contact me!